Fake news travels faster than truth on social media, study finds

Social media platforms who are looking to curb the use of their networks to spread disinformation, rumour and other fake news may have to content with a powerful foe: human nature.

According to a new study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fake news travels faster and reaches more people than real news, largely because the stories tend to be “more novel”.

The research, which looked at 126,000 rumours and false news that spread on Twitter over a period of 11 years, also found that fake news was more commonly re-tweeted by humans than bots, suggesting that while automated programs may play a role in the spread of such stories, humans are largely responsible.

“False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information,” said Professor Sinan Aral, one of the studys co-authors.

The most common subject shared was false political news, with urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment and natural disasters also proving popular. The research was started following the Boston marathon bombing in 2013, where Twitter became a primary source of news in the aftermath, resulting in many rumours and false information spreading.

The team worked with six independent fact-checking sources to corroborate stories, and found that false news stories were 70 per cent more likely to be re-tweeted than true stories. True stories took around six times longer to reach 1,500 people, with most rarely shared beyond 1,000 people, while the most popular false news stories reached up to 100,000 users.